It’s the middle of August in Hanoi. It was hot, humid and utterly uncomfortable. The heat mercilessly drains your energy with every step you take along the narrow winding streets, past zipping motorbikes and friendly old Vietnamese women selling fruit and vegetables.
But this is post is not a rant on how much I hate Hanoi and its despicable soul sucking heat. Matter of fact I love Hanoi. I love it despite its heat and humidity amongst the city’s mass of hectic cacophony glory. I love Vietnam.
So what if Hanoi is not ideal period to visit in August? At least the hotels in the city are very affordable at that time. And there are plenty of dessert and cà phê shops all over to duck into and load up on the classic Vietnamese coffee or what I affectionately refer to as rocket fuel.
I’ve been to Ho Chi Minh a couple of times this was my first trip to Hanoi. And I’m still kicking myself on why it took me so long to visit this wonderful capital of Vietnam. And there are more places I’d like to visit as well but so far I’m just hopscotching along as I go. But one reason why we were in Hanoi was because we wanted to visit Halong Bay and Ninh Binh province which are a few hours away by car near the northern coast of Vietnam.
Aside from the friendly people, wonderful culture and architecture, you all know how much I love food. Travel and food goes hand in hand after all. And while in Vietnam you gotta have the quintessential Banh Mi.
So I did a search on Tripadvisor on which restaurant has the best Banh Mi in the vicinity of Hanoi’s Old Quarter where I was staying. And I found Banh Mi 25, which was just a 5 minute walk from my hotel. I found it with a little difficulty because the streets of Hanoi are small with many twists and turns.
They have a small menu but I ordered a sandwich with everything on it which cost around $1US. Their Banh Mi are small though. Luckily I ordered 2!
I eagerly made my way back to my hotel to scarf those babies down and when I did I was surprised I was full. And my wife had a worried look on her face because I looked like a rabid dog eating its last meal.
To help me digest we planned a walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the evening. There’s a very interesting story or legend relating to the lake which you can check out here on the ol’ wikipedia. But long story short it has something to do with a sword, a golden turtle and a local god. And there are still turtles in the lake that are quite famous.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake is about 2 kilometers around. Which is a good walk to work of those sandwiches. Those Banh Mi sandwichs, still think about them yummmm….
But I got hungry after walking around. Because it was so hot and I was dripping in sweat that the calories poured out of my skin. Luckily around the halfway mark we spotted a Pho restaurant.
I’ll probably get booed for this but the best Pho hands down is still back in NYC’s Chinatown. I’m not saying I don’t like Pho in Vietnam. I just haven’t found Pho anywhere else in Vietnam that matches my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in NYC.
The restaurant I went to in Hanoi is called Pho 24. It’s a chain of Pho restaurants I’m used to in Ho Chi Minh City. And my wife enjoys it so I’m not complaining at all because the Pho powered me back up for another round of wandering around Hanoi.
Hanoi is certainly one lively city during the night. Everyone is about and about. The cyclos are merrily on their way with tourists snapping pictures happily. Locals are in the parks, around the lakes, sitting down and chatting with friends or simply strolling around. There’s certainly romance in the air. And I mean that literally.
Lots of wedding photos were taken all around the lake, mostly in the areas where the backgrounds are more scenic. But wedding pictures were also taken out in front of Hanoi’s posh malls which near southeast corner of Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake is the center of activity for Hanoi’s locals, from morning to night. There’s no doubt about it. You can tell despite the high humidity everyone is out to enjoy the night.
But that’s not all there is to do around the Old Quarters of Hanoi at night. If you’re there on the weekends there is a night market located about a 5 minute walk due north of Hoàn Kiếm Lake. But a word of warning, even though it’s night the temperature is still warm and humid. I know, I keep mentioning it’s hot but it is.
Factor in that there are shoulder to shoulder sweaty tourists and locals too walking up and down the narrow one street night market. So there’s plenty of body heat going around making the experience uncomfortable. Wear some comfortable loose fitting clothes, drink plenty of fluids and carry a towel cause you’ll need it.
I haven’t bought anything though my wife bought a bunch of small little coin bags with traditional Vietnamese motifs to take home as souvenir gifts. The more you quantities you buy the better discounts you get is the standard rule.
Hanoi’s Night Market is narrow but goes quite far and as far as we walked we couldn’t make it all the way through. There were too many people and as much water as we were drinking it was all coming back out via sweat.
Luckily, Hanoi is coffee heaven. There are many small and large cafes. We’ve picked quite a few during our stay in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and each and everyone we were happy. Vietnamese coffee is one of the best in the world. And they are proud and should be and you can see it in many of the small coffee shops.
This was our first night in Hanoi. It was a wonderful day and an awesome start for our trip in Vietnam And we’ve booked a day tour that starts early in the morning. A couple of posts on those day tours coming up soon. And even though I had that super powered Vietnamese caffeine coursing through my veins I was so tired at the end of the night experiencing all that Hanoi threw at me I still slept like a rock.